CHAPTER ONE

*

It began with a glimmer of power, and a breath.

A tall figure walked slowly through a darkened corridor. He was richly dressed, and carried himself well; to the naked eye, he looked like a well-born young lord, gone for a late night stroll. His guise as a human was well set in place, hiding who and what he really was. A faint smile came onto his pale features.

A faint bubbling noise greeted him as he stepped into a particular chamber. A half-dozen earthenware vats were set against the wall. Inside them, shapes stirred and shifted in the dark liquid. Some looked almost like humans; some were monstrous blends of demons, bristling with spines, claws, fangs, armored scales.

The demon rested his hands on the edge of the furthermost pot. His glowing eyes narrowed slightly, as if he were lost in thoughts.

Suddenly the pot cracked under his fingers. Fluid began to seep out and pool on the floor, as the shape inside began to thrash and kick at the sides of it pot. Naraku smiled softly as wrinkled fingertips began working through the largest crack, struggling to break through.

"Perfect," Naraku murmured.

The pot crumpled and shattered. A shape collapsed onto the floor, struggling and coughing its first breaths. Naraku watched as it slowly began to organize its movements, to lurch up and stare at him. His own flesh, reshaped and formed into this new demon.

It was a girl. Her wet black hair hung over her face, and her features were hidden by the shadows. Her nude body was that of a young woman, with the awkward coltishness of a girl half-grown. Though Naraku could not see her face, he knew that to the naked eye, she looked entirely human. And he knew whose face was under that dark hair.

"Mihaka," Naraku said quietly.

The girl looked up at him, recognizing her name.

"Good. Very good," the demon said, slowly walking around her. The girl shifted around on her knees, following him with her eyes. "You learn quickly, Mihaka."

Naraku's eyes flickered over her body, finally resting on her face. He had given a great deal of effort into creating this girl, and her brother, and he was pleased by the results. She was perfect; every detail had been thought of and included. As he watched, Mihaka pushed her wet hair out of her eyes and stared up at him solemnly.

"Can you stand?" Naraku said.

As an answer, Mihaka slowly stood up and faced him.

"Are you able to speak?"

"Yes, master," the girl said in a high, clear voice.

"Good," Naraku murmured, smiling. "Good. Your voice is right as well. I outdid my past efforts..."

He walked past the bubbling pots and seated himself on the floor in the corner. "Look into the furthermost vat," he said quietly. "See who is inside."

Mihaka obeyed. She peered into the dark liquid, frowning at the shape she saw curled inside. Her dark eyes narrowed slightly at the profile of a boy's face, asleep and peaceful, framed by long, floating pale hair. His skin and body had a strange translucence, as if he were still forming, still incomplete. Curiously, Mihaka started to reach into the vat, then pulled back her hand as the liquid bubbed ominously. The boy's body shifted, as if he were dreaming in his half-formed state.

"That is your brother Marako," Naraku said in a low voice. "Once you two have learned enough, you will be sent out to do a certain task." He smiled slightly. "Mihaka."

The newborn demon turned to look at him.

"I want you to kill Inuyasha."

Mihaka thought it over for a moment. Then she nodded and smiled. "Yes, Master Naraku."

TO BE CONTINUED